The other day I read an article on Vox that talked about the eBook revolution that never happened. The focus was on the Big 5 traditional publishing houses, which a decade ago were the Big 6. If you had asked them when the Amazon Kindle first appeared followed shortly by the Apple iPad and the rise of the eBook, they would have told you it would be the number one disrupter of the publishing industry.
That isn’t the way things have gone. Sales of eBooks for traditional publishers have stabilized at around 20% of books sold overall. The problem is that Millennials and Generation Z have not become the eBook addicts analysts assumed they would be. Most, although on their phones often for other reasons, prefer to read books in physical format rather than digital.
Those opting most for digital books are those of my generation and older. We can use the backlit screens of a Kindle, along with the ability to control the font size. It’s really about ease of reading, not about being connected and reading on various devices.
When it comes to indie publishers and self-published authors though, the eBook still rules. The simple reason is that the distribution network still largely favors big publishing houses, although more and more independent authors are finding success through various programs.
The other good news is that independent bookstores, once thought to be on the verge of extinction and the victims of the Amazon beast, have, after some hard lessons, learned to adapt and survive, attracting young people with events and experiences rather than just shelves of books and a cash register.
What does the revolution, or lack of it, actually mean to the average author though?
Amazon is Still a Beast
While we don’t always love them, most authors understand that a huge percentage of our income comes from the beast in the room of Amazon. It’s hard to be too critical of the avenue that sells most of your work.
Despite the efforts of Apple and other publishers in collusion to unseat the giant from the throne, Bezos behemoth still dominates the marketplace in the United States at least. That is also while many authors are going international with their promotion efforts everywhere from the emerging market in China to Europe where Kobo is more common.
Unfortunately, Nook and Barnes and Noble are still struggling. There are niche groups on that platform that can be reached, but the future of the digital arm of the last chain bookstore standing in the US bookstore battles is uncertain. The hope is that the physical brand experiences a Waterstone-like recovery under new leadership and the digital arm finds some new traction as well.
The Big 5 Are Still the Print Gatekeepers
While it is possible to make a splash as an indie publisher or self-published author in the way of print, the Big 5 still have the biggest stronghold, the biggest control and influence over physical book pricing, and they still dominate distribution and delivery. The reason is simply volume. There are solutions where indie publishers of all types unite in various ways, but overall the control still lies in the hands of a few mighty companies.
It’s not that this is not shifting. Smaller publishing houses are getting larger, and algorithms and search engines are somewhat of an equalizer. The problem is that indie publishers can’t possibly match the ad bids set forth by the Big 5, and many feel they should be treated differently in some way, although no one seems to know how such a structure would be created or managed.
No matter how you look at it, with traditional publishing, there is still a monopoly of control in the print world in the hands of just a few companies. That monopoly includes Ingram, who also controls the majority of print distribution even through Amazon.
Digital Monopolies and Advertising
If you’ve been an author for a while, you remember the Battle of $9.99, and the showdown between Apple and the Big 5 and Amazon over physical book pricing. They lost, much to Amazon’s delight, and subsequent attempts to break the stronghold of Amazon have similarly failed.
The reason is that the target is entirely wrong, and the solution will not be found in a courtroom.
First, the target: Amazon is not the only giant in the room, although they represent the overall digital monster. That monster really consists of Amazon, Apple, The Big 5, and even to an extent, Google and social media giants like Facebook. This is because the key to discoverability is advertising, and advertising costs money.
Let’s look really quickly at a Pay-Per-Click ad campaign on any digital platform. The way it works is this: the advertiser pays only when an ad is delivered to an individual and that individual clicks on their ad. A click does not mean a sale necessarily, but let’s argue for this example that it does.
To get ad placement, an ad must win a bid, which the advertiser sets. If another advertiser in the same category bids more that advertiser #1, their ad is placed instead. This means the ads are about good ad content, the right category choices, and the right bid.
Let’s takes the average indie author for example. Say they are selling a novel as an eBook for $4.99 that falls into the thriller category. Sounds better than the latest thriller from Penguin priced at $11.99, right? The problem comes when it is time to bid for Amazon or Google or even social media ads. The indie author may be making $3.49 per book, so bidding half of that to get their book on the top of the ad list for a particular genre leaves them with more sales but much lower profits.
Take the traditionally published thriller, and the publisher is making closer to $7.00 per book depending on their deal with Amazon, Apple, or another e-retailer. If they bid half of that profit to have an ad for that book on top of the ad queue, the indie author would be losing money to even compete. Any competitive edge of a lower price is lost in the ability to run effective ads and win bids.
Sounds confusing, huh? That’s because it is. There are tons of manipulations of keywords to rank higher than the next guy even with a lower bid. And there are a ton of bidding strategies and ways to optimize your bids.
The Bottom Line
What it boils down to is that for indie publishers, small presses, and self-published authors, the game has gotten harder rather than easier. The revolution is that anyone can publish, but not just anyone can sell books. There are mediocre authors out there who are really good at selling books and make a good living doing so. There are some great authors out there who struggle to stand out from the crowd.
The issues are the same as they were a decade ago, just in a playing field where authors have more choices about their path to publication and their method for standing out and at least making a modest living from selling books.
Today’s author, if they wish to make a living from their craft, must be as good in business as they are at craft. They must apply their creativity to more than just characters, plots, and stories, but also to marketing, advertising, and their digital presence.
It’s time for us, as authors, to treat writing as a business. Because whether we like it or not, it is one. It is the rare author who will be discovered by New York and Hollywood and propelled to stardom. Remember, authors do not succeed because they were destined to, but because they are determined to.
Join us in the business of writing. It’s an exciting time, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and find new ways to fight the digital monopoly around us.
There are three distinct aspects of being a writer: the craft of writing, the mechanics of writing, and the business of writing. I tackle the last one in my upcoming book, Writing as a Business: Production, Distribution, and Marketing. It’s rare to get a workshop, let alone a conference, that focuses on at least some of the aspects of the business of writing.
Enter the Writer CEO one day workshop, right here in my hometown of Boise, Idaho. Led by two astute authors who have also worked at freelancing in various capacities and still do, the workshop focused on some of the basic principles of marketing, money, and overcoming crippling self-doubt to finish projects and take risks.
First up, we have Colleen Story. She “is on a mission to inspire people from all walks of life to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, is a strengths-based guide to help writers break the spell of invisibility and discover unique author platforms that will draw readers their way. Her prior nonfiction release, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, was named Solo Medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book, and first place in the 2018 Reader Views Literary Awards.
She’s also the mastermind behind the Writing and Wellness website, a first of its kind website focuses on, you guess it, writer’s health. Turns out, sitting in front of a computer all day typing is not good for you. Who knew? Well, Colleen did, and she shares tips, tricks, and the stories of others to inspire writers to live healthier lives.
Donna Cook (you’ll find her fantasy work under Donna Cook and she also writes romance under a pen name) has worked as a freelance editor, something she does little of anymore, but now focuses on writing fiction. She figured out early on the value of knowing how to run your writing and your freelance career (if you have one) like a business. She’s a brilliant teacher, and her cash flow tool is, as far as I know, unique and brilliant. (more on that below)
Her take on marketing, author platform, and what is working today for authors shows an outstanding grasp of the industry and the writer lifestyle.
Other workshop organizers, take note. This, my friends, is how things should be done. Things started with an “everyone together” session that set the tone and the subject matter for the day. Both speakers were introduced, and each spoke briefly about different aspects of the day.
After that, it was immediately time to dig in with the first class, an overview of being overwhelmed as a writer and a creative. Clearly drawn from some of the principles outlined in her Overwhelmed Writer Rescue book (brilliant, by the way. You MUST read this), Colleen led us through some common causes of being overwhelmed, and how to combat them. The presentation was informative, entertaining, and relevant.
The Money Presentation
Alright, I know I was talking about format, but we’re going to pause from that for a second to talk about the second presentation, the one everyone was in, and nearly everyone needed. The money talk, or the talk about the silent killer of author businesses: cashflow. The greatest takeaways from the class are simple: an understanding of cashflow and how that knowledge can help you make decisions, and a unique tool to track and manage cashflow.
Many writers might want a class first on how to generate cashflow, but those came later. The truth is, many people fail to understand this principle even in their personal finances. You can quickly see how patience pays off, and how the right timing for a purchase can make all the difference to your business.
On top of the knowledge she presented, Donna Cook has built a tool, one that as far as I can tell is unique. In other words, there are some great tools to help you with tracking where your money goes, but there are few that offer you the ability to do projections, anticipate income and expenses before they are right in your face, and alter the way you spend accordingly.
You can get the tool here, along with a brief course that explains how to use it. I’d start with the LITE version, not because the Deluxe does not have value, but until you are more comfortable with cashflow and how it works, it will be harder for you to understand.
Here’s the thing: if you got nothing else out of this entire workshop, this one presentation would be worth the price of admission, which was more than reasonable in the first place. Understanding cashflow for a writer can mean the difference between success and failure.
Now that my rabbit trail is concluded, we’ll circle back around to format. The first two sessions took us to a lunch break. The information was not so overwhelming that it created overload at lunch time, but what we got was enough to stimulate conversation and many of us were already thinking ahead, anxious to get started applying what we learned.
In the afternoon, things changed up, and there were essentially two tracks, one with each speaker, each with a different focus. My wife and I, who were both in attendance, split up for a couple and did a couple together based on what we needed to focus on.
And that was the beauty. From building platform to book launch and more advanced marketing techniques to some simple advice on finishing projects, the afternoon was filled with good advice. Even with only two presenters, it was hard to decide between the sessions offered. The workshop was well organized, breaks were ample but not too long, and the closing session offered opportunities to win some valuable prizes.
An optional cocktail hour afterward offered mingling opportunities, and like other “bar con” activities at similar events, there were a lot of things to take away there too.
Look, I talk to a lot of writers, most of whom want to write for a living at some point. Some will say things like, “I just want to write, not be an entrepreneur.” Tough. If you are a writer, and you want to sell books, even if you never intend to do it for a living, you will have to treat your writing like a business. Your book is a product, and you need to be able to sell it.
You need to know if you are making money and how much. You also need to know how to finish projects so you can sell them, how to build an author platform, and how to get yourself and your work noticed. You need to do all of that without being paralyzed because you are overwhelmed by all these things you need to do.
It’s tough. Being a Writer CEO is not for the faint of heart. It’s rare to come across a workshop that talks about it so well and so thoroughly. If you did not get to go to this workshop this time, go when it is offered again. Follow Writer CEO for updates and check out Writing and Wellness if you want to be the healthiest writer you can.
Above all, treat your writing as the business it is. You’ll get more out of it that way, and you’ll reach more people with your books and the message you want to share.
When it comes to writing as a business, there is no shortage of people telling you they will take your work from zero to hero with little or no effort on your part. There are companies that tell you they will handle everything from the cover to editing, publishing, and even marketing for you, in exchange for a fee. Usually a rather large one.
Every single day, people fall for these things. And every single day, these companies open, close, change their names, and time after time they fail to deliver on their promises to authors, or justify that failure by the mantra, “We can’t promise sales. No one can.”
The last part is true. However, you can control how your book is presented, how it is marketed, and what tools are used to get it where it needs to be. There are tools that work and tools that don’t, and there are ways to test and practice methods to make sure they will work before spending a lot of money on them.
I’m going to use an example here: a client that I ghostwrote a book for, and a “publisher” and “literary agent” who made him an offer to publish his story. The “publisher” went by the name “Christian Faith Publishing” and the agent’s name was Jessica Meyer. The client will remain nameless as part of our ghostwriting contract.
Ms. Meyer contacted him and even sent him a contract, which I looked over, and then told him my opinion on who and what this company was. He asked if I would talk to them on his behalf, and I agreed. Mainly so that I could bring you information not from internet research or negative reviews (although there are many out there you can search for yourself). And so that I could offer you some tips and some warnings about how to spot these companies, and how to evaluate if they and their services are right for you.
What’s the Difference Between a Publisher and Self-Publishing Services Companies?
Here’s the primary difference. A publisher accepts or rejects your work not just on merit, but also depending on how it will sell and whether it fits or conflicts with their current catalog. They then have your book edited, select a cover for it with some input from you, and publish and distribute your work. They do some marketing, but the bulk of it is still the writer’s responsibility.
Publishers make their money when, and only when your book sells. Their income is based on royalties, which is why they do not just accept any manuscript. In fact, often if you don’t have an author platform and a good social media and marketing presence of your own, they will reject you on that basis alone. Essentially, they pay for your cover, your formatting, your editing, etc. They collect that later by only paying you limited royalties.
A self-publishing services company means you pay for all of those services up front. So you pay a fee of $3500 to Christian Faith Publishing. You get editing, a cover, distribution, and a limited number of marketing resources. The bulk of marketing still falls to you, and often (as is the case with Christian Faith) once you have earned out what you paid them, they start to collect royalties on your sales. So you are actually paying them twice, maybe more if you sell a lot of books, for one service.
But the marketing materials they offer are not always what you need to sell books. That’s part of the problem, and we’ll talk about that in a minute.
What’s in a Name?
First of all, let’s look at the name of the company, Christian Faith. If you have been around this game long enough, you remember names like Author Solutions and all the “publishers” that split off from it. There have also been names like Tate Publishing and others who have been proven to be scams.
A quick look at “Editors and Predators” website will tell you about many of them. But always, whenever you get an offer in your inbox for publishing that just seems too good to be true, Google the company followed by the word “reviews.”
The founder of Christian Faith Publishing, Chris Rutherford, used to work for Tate Publishing. However, according to Jessica, our literary agent, he did not like the way they did business. That is why he left. Yet he is following a very similar business model, just with “Christian” in the name. You can view his LinkedIn profile here, and note that from 2009-2012 he was with a “Book Publisher.” That’s Tate, where he held several titles. Tate closed amid complaints of non-payment and other serious issues and was a publisher that also catered to “Christian writers.”
The point is that no matter what the name, and if the publisher claims somehow to be Christian, that doesn’t mean it is, and it certainly does not mean you will get what you pay for.
What about Transparency?
One of the keys when dealing with one of these publishers or a publicist, or anyone who offers to assist you with certain aspects of your writing is transparency. There are a few aspects to this.
- Upfront pricing on their website.If you talked to someone about cleaning your carpets, you want to know the price, right? It should be the same with publishing services. With Christian Faith, it is not. In fact, what they charge an author seems to change, anywhere from $3500 to $5000 dollars, usually payable in monthly installments.
While Ms. Meyer would not give me sales numbers, as those were confidential, she also would not give me average sales numbers or average earnings. She did give me a link to their authors’ books on Amazon for me to check out. Many did not even have Kindle formats available, there were few reviews, sometimes none for each book, and the rankings were, well, questionable. Remember though, I had to go find the numbers. They would not give them to me.
- Who you are talking to.Jessica Myers email signature reads “Literary Agent.” Toward the bottom after a few phone numbers is “Christian Faith Publishing.” But is Ms. Meyers a literary agent? It appears that the only publisher she places authors with is Christian Faith.
But wait. A look at LinkedIn and all of the Christian Faith employees there shows no Jessica Meyer. Nor is she on any list of literary agents in Google. In fact, she doesn’t seem to digitally exist at all. Is this the agent equivalent of a pseudonym used to lure authors?
And just to be as transparent as possible from what we could find: although the publishing company is based in Pennsylvania, most of the staff doing covers, editing, and other work is based overseas. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the website certainly doesn’t tell you that.
What about Quality?
The first thing I noticed, or one of the first things, when I opened the Christian Faith Amazon page was the quality of the covers. It’s the same on their website if you look at the testimonials tab. Here’s the thing—I don’t want to run down the authors or the cover designers, and maybe it is the process that is broken, but either way the covers look—amateurish, and from a company that you are potentially paying nearly $4000 or more to publish your book (depending on who you ask), that just is not acceptable.
So I haven’t opened the books to see if the edited is just as bad, but I can say this—from covers and descriptions on Amazon, I have some real questions about their decisions to outsource work overseas. It seems like it’s not going well, and I’m not sure who is responsible for Q.A.
That does not mean everything they do is horrible, but it is certainly lower than other publishing standards.
Here’s the bottom line. Not everyone’s path to publication is the same, and self-publishing services certainly work for some people. With the difficulty that publishers have making money with the current market, I actually don’t blame them for charging for some services up front, or at least letting the author absorb part of the investment in their own work.
What I do have issue with is the use of words. A self-publishing services company is not a publisher, and their representatives are not literary agents.
I also have an issue with clarity and honesty. If I quote you a price on ghostwriting, editing, even web content, my process is pretty transparent, and whether you are my relative, friend, or a client I don’t know personally, you pay the same rates with very few exceptions.
When I contacted Jessica Meyer, literary agent, and asked her if the author could switch out some promotional material for others that would pay off better, she had this to say: “We are pretty much a take it or leave it publisher. We offer one package and one set of options.” Yet I have read that the cost of their services varies. If the same things are offered, why does the price vary?
In short, I’d avoid Christian Faith Publishing, and I’d be careful no matter who you are when you are approached by a “pay to play” publisher. Ask a lot of questions, get second opinions from friends and professionals in the industry, and be sure you have a lawyer examine the contract.
What other “pay to play” publishers have you had experience with? How did it go? Let us know, and if you would like to contribute a guest post about it, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
I’ll start off this post by saying that this opinion is going to be unpopular with some writers and some freelancers.
I did not get to where I am today by second guessing certain truths about the writing business as it is today, and what it takes to make a living writing. While there are some things that are open to interpretation and even debate, there are some things that are simple facts. Here are some hard truths about saying yes, saying no, and making a living writing.
The Writing Game is Fickle
There are few other professions that are like any of the arts. From writing to music, from art to film, the one common question is, “What have you done for me lately?” In other words, if you wrote a great article on Huffington Post three years ago, it makes no difference on your resume.
The same is true even if you had a New York Times Bestseller even a year ago. To a publisher and to an extent your readers, the question is “What is your current project?” or “What is next?” Your past success only holds water (and makes you money) for a very limited time.
In order to make a living writing, you have to be doing something now. You have to have something coming next. If you are relying on your backlist, or the project you did last year to keep earning for you or even keep impressing readers and clients, you are in for a rude awakening.
Think about it. Even your local, indie bookstore who really likes your work will only keep your print book on the shelf for about six months, unless you have a series that is selling, which means the next book in the series comes out in that time period or shortly thereafter. Why? Because that’s how long your book will sell in their store before it becomes stale, and they are running a business too.
The time to write the next book is now. You’ve already said yes when you said you wanted to do this for a living.
On a pretty regular basis I hear from freelancers and from authors that they get big paydays and then can go a long time without another one. And it is true. If you are traditionally published, you might get an advance on your novel, but not get a royalty check for a whole year. (an advance is just a loan on anticipated earnings if we are being honest here).
So what do you do between those times? You have to manage your money, and it also might mean saying yes to smaller projects where you don’t earn as much, but you earn it now. As an author, that might mean short stories for paying markets, online or physical. For a freelancer, it might mean supplementing with smaller projects between the large ones.
It also means being aware of the fact that you might not have another payday for a while, and planning accordingly. That advance check is not the time to go pay cash for a new car, unless that really will save you money over time. It is time to look at short term investments, interest bearing checking, savings plans, and even at paying yourself a salary (read, allowance) that you must live within every month.
What that means is that you must say yes to those smaller, shorter term assignments or projects. Turning down work is turning down money. Saying yes does a couple of things for you. It enhances your “What have you done for me lately?” resume. And it gives you cash, money you can add to your current cashflow.
A Quick Note on “No”
Does that mean you always say “yes” in order to make a living? No, not at all. There are absolutely times when you should say ‘no.”
- Doing things for “exposure.” So far, no stores I have encountered take an exposure card. There are few exceptions to doing things for free to get exposure. Most of the time, this is a time to say “no thanks.” Be polite. You never know when there might be a paying opportunity with the same group or organization. Simply say, “I can’t work for free. But when you have a budget, I would be happy to work with you at that time.”
- Doing things for a deep discount. Your time and your writing are worth money. Just like you should not work for free, you should have standard rates that you work for, freelance or fiction. If you invest your time, you should expect the return of some love. Love, in this case, is defined as hopefully several numbers, preceded by a dollar sign, and with the only zeroes being the two that follow a decimal point.
- Doing things you hate. Are you a mystery writer who hates reading and writing romance? Then don’t accept a gig editing romance, reading romance, or worse, ghostwriting romance. First of all, your work will not be as good if you hate it. Second, you will be miserable. We all do this writing thing because we love it, right? Don’t compromise that by doing work you despise.
However, there are exceptions. As a freelancer, you might write articles that are not your favorite. As an author, you may be asked to judge a competition and read stories that are not your favorite. If you are getting paid enough though, it may be worth slogging through it, especially if you are struggling with cashflow.
Second, you might work for exposure from time to time. Writer’s conferences, judging competitions, and even some speaking engagements to writer’s groups can make a huge difference to you selling books, or may offer you an in with a new audience.
You have to evaluate things on the basis of what actually makes you enough money and what works for you. Go with your gut. It is okay to say “no” if something just doesn’t fit your objectives and where you are headed with your career.
Examples of “Yes”
Want some examples? Here are three from my own career:
Q: “Can you help us with our blog content?”
A: “Yes, I can. I charge $xxx.xx per blog post. But I notice your topics are rather random. Would you like additional help on content strategy?”
Result: The client answered “tell me more” to my question. The result? A one year contract, over 18 months of work at $3,000 per month, and continuing ongoing work even now. All because I said “yes” to the first question.
By the way, it was a couple of months between my “yes” and my “your topics are kind of random” declaration. First, I established trust in my writing ability and showed I had the client’s best interests at heart.
Q: “I need someone with a religious background and some Bible knowledge who shares my opinions on both to write a book with me. Are you interested?”
A: “Yes. Tell me more.”
Result: The book Satanarium, written with a woman named Poppet, who is from South Africa and someone I have never met in person. It was picked up and published by Wild Wolf press in the UK. Why does that matter?
Not only did we sell some books, but Wild Wolf is on the accepted publisher list for the International Thriller Writers, which is why I am a lifetime associate member and pay no dues, ever. I also learned a ton about collaboration, and I had a great time.
Q: “I have a story to tell about my life as a xxxxxx, and I have written a lot of it down. But I don’t know how to put it in a book. Can you help me?”
A: “Yes. I usually start with a block of hours until we figure out the scope of your project, and then we will set a price to finish it. Sound good?”
Result: My first large ghostwriting assignment. This helped put me on the map with ghostwriting and earned me some serious money. It opened my eyes to a new kind of writing, one I could supplement my fiction with and improve my cashflow.
Are there times when I said “yes” and it did not work out well? Yep. Are there times when I said “no” and I wish I had said “yes”? Also, yep. You can’t win them all.
But you can make a difference in your writing career and income by being open to saying “yes” even when it makes you a little uncomfortable. In fact, that is probably the best time of all to agree. You’ll grow as a person too, and you may be surprised what doors will open as a result.
Often, writer’s don’t think much about things like web security, GDPR, and other things most businesses must, and do think about. There are two issues with that. The first is that if we are going to treat writing as a business, we have to think about these things and factor them into our business. The second is that your website is a vital part of your author platform.
What do we mean by your author platform? It means the assets you can control and that you own. You own your website or websites, your email list, and your followers along with the books, blogs, and other materials you have written and hold the copyright to. You do not control (or really own) your Amazon Author Central, your Goodreads profile, your BookBub profile or followers, or anything on social media or a third-party site. You could lose your Amazon account tomorrow. It’s not likely, but it has happened to authors and could happen again.
So let’s look at domain name registration, hosting, and the other things that go with having your own website.
Domain Name Registration
Please, authors, for the love of all that is holy, don’t get a generic free WordPress site or one of the ones from Weebly or BlogSpot. You need to own your domain name, and the free ones you get from these sites are not personalized and not ones that you own. By the time you pay to personalize the, you could have purchased a real domain name.
Register your domain for as long as possible. Most of the time, you can buy domain names through the person or company who handles your hosting. More on that in a moment. Most domains will not cost you more than $15 per year to register, and for most, a WordPress install is pretty easy to do. We’ll talk more about website builders and design in a sec, and probably in deeper detail in a later post. The key is that you need to search for your domain name, and purchase it.
That can be your name, or related to what you do. I have troylambertwrites.com and several subdomains of that site, including writingasabusiness.troylambertwrites.com. One of those two places is where you are reading this content right now. Include these in your hosting package for one simple reason: then you only have one place to go when you need to renew things or change them.
There are all kinds of hosts out there, from JustHost to GoDaddy to a bunch of other small ones. What is the big deal about which one you use? It makes a huge difference in reliability, customer service, cost, maintenance, and a variety of other factors. I use a smaller one, called Hosting for Writers. Here are the reasons (and why they matter). A side note: before I had them, I had JustHost and what was known as BlueHost, then taken over by JustHost anyway. There were disadvantages to those big providers that I don’t have with Hosting for Writers.
- Reliability: My sites are rarely down, and if they are, I know a real person is working on getting them back up as soon as possible.
- Customer service: No online chatbots or endless waits. I email a person, and that person works to fix my issue, often above and beyond what would be considered normal.
- Speed: This is big. You are a small writer in a big pond of business sites for large providers. Need more space on a server or greater speed? You are going to pay, and probably pay big.
- Costs: That is where cost comes in. With a small host, you know what you are paying for and what you get. There are no hidden charges or fees that suddenly appear or come up. If you go beyond certain traffic numbers or space on the server, you will be offered more, but it will be a much less pushy and certainly not automatic occurrence.
- Other features: Look, most hosts charge for extra features and services, and that can add up fast. Often these are a part of packages, a big part of which you don’t need. With Hosting for Writers, what you see is what you get, and that is a lot, including security upgrades and help, plugins, and even access to themes.
If you are going to have a website you have to host it somewhere. It might as well be somewhere you know and trust. It is important to understand another aspect of hosting that really affects cost, and as you get more traffic, one you really need to consider.
That is the type of hosting. There are two, shared and dedicated. Most authors do not have enough traffic to need a dedicated host, but once you do, it is good to know you have the option. Shared hosting means you share a server with other sites. If they are exceptionally busy, they can affect your site speed. Shared hosting is the cheapest and simplest of all hosting plans. Dedicated hosting is when you have a server all to yourself. This is great for large sites, but is expensive. It is just good to know you have the option from your host when you need it, and that they have the space to accommodate you without you having to pay an arm and a leg for it.
This is number one, and something many writers never think about until their site is hacked. Which happens often. In fact, it just happened to a friend of mine a few months ago who blogged about it here. There are some good tips in that article, but one thing she mentions right away. Her site, a shared one, was shut down by her host without warning, and she was told to fix the security issues with her site herself.
The host directed her to a security company they partner with to fix the problem, which they offered to do at a rate of $140 a month–way too much money. There are better ways to go about this, and eventually this friend figured them out, but not without a lot of time and frustration.
There are security plugins that will help, and things you can do to protect yourself. If you have the right host, they will recommend them for you. I remember when my site was hacked a few years ago now. I had a backup, a great host, and my site was up and running very quickly–with a real person’s help, and I really did not lose that much at all.
Since then, with firewalls and other security in place, I have not been hacked in quite a while. Knock on wood. If it does happen, I know I have a host who is also a web developer and security freak herself, on my side.
GDPR and Other Stuff
Do you sell anything at all on your site? Allow comments/ Collect user information for almost any reason at all? Then you need to be GDPR compliant the same as you are with MailChimp or whoever your newsletter software company is. The right host will help. The wrong host won’t. The right host will warn you of possible violations and make sure you are in compliance. Don’t neglect this–fines from the EU can be steep.
Your host probably has a whole bunch of sites, so they have buying power you do not. That means they can get plugins, themes, and other items much cheaper than you can, and pass those savings on to you. A smaller host will do just that–it is in their best interest that you succeed. A larger host in many cases will charge you for every little add-on. while It’s understandable that they need to make money, it is also important for you to save money where you can.
Writers typically do not make a lot of money, and your site may take a while to even pay for itself, and the money you have invested in creating and securing it. If, like hosting for writers, your host can offer you things at a cut rate or in some cases even free, take advantage of them.
In short, the right host will be more than just a host. They will also be your tech support, and your help when you need it. They will offer services, recommendations, and service that will make you want to stay for years. I’ve just signed on with Hosting for Writers for the next five years. Why? I see no need to change when you have a good thing going, and it saves me a ton of money to commit.
There are a lot of hosting and domain name choices out there, along with other services like web design, security, and more. Going with a company that offers as many of the solutions as possible in one place, and that involves real people rather than chatbots and impersonal service, is likely a better choice for your writing website.
Feel free to comment your experiences below, and reach out if you have questions to info-at_troylambertwrites.com.
It’s been several years since I revisited this debate, and part of that is because I chose to go with Apple the last time I was due for a computer upgrade, and I was extremely happy with my choice. However, during that period of time, other things have changed, and actually there are more options now than there have been in a long time for writers and freelancers, especially those on the go.
Recently, I came to the inevitable conclusion that my old MacBook Pro, a 2013 version, was due for replacing. Now true, I was using it as my main computer, docking it when I was home, and using it as a laptop on the go.
I also confess that I am a power user. As a freelancer and when I am writing, I tend to have several dozen windows open at once, several tabs on my browser, and I am darting back and forth like a hummingbird between feeders.
Then there is the whole keyboard controversy around the MacBook. Since I usually use a Bluetooth keyboard at home, the laptop keyboard only matters when I am on the go, and I don’t do a lot of writing on the road. However, it’s enough of a concern that I did have to at least take it into account.
So let’s look at the pros and cons of each, and at the end, I’ll tell you what I bought and why.
Price vs. Features
I can hear my PC friends clamoring for attention already. They are going to tell me how many PCs they can buy for the price of one MacBook pro, and I hear them. But there is another set of factors, and that is speed and features. For me, I want a super-fast processor, great graphics that are easier on my eyes, and a decent sized screen for on the go. (More on screens soon)
So when you start comparing features that really matter to me, you start getting into more of a gaming style PC to get the graphics, speed, and memory I want. Which means that the prices are suddenly nearly comparable.
For example, the new Microsoft Surface almost equals the MacBook, but I am not a fan of their keyboards for the most part, although the tablet flexibility is nice—but that brings me to the option that I could do similar things with the newer iPad Pros with a little cost savings. But more on operating systems and other issues in the next section.
Suffice it so say that when you get to similar speed and features, the price stops being as much of a factor as it was previously. If you can get by with less memory and speed, PC does have an edge. Apple products generally last longer, but when you compare the price of some lower end PCs and a the Mac Air, the PC is much more affordable.
I do have a confession to make. When Windows 8 made its not so illustrious debut, I was less than impressed. Windows 10? Please. In short, I hate Windows operating systems since the demise of Windows 7 Professional. There have been improvements, but they have not been sufficient to mitigate my loathing for them. They are tolerable, but hardly my favorites. I know you can custom configure Windows, and there are solutions.
I took this into account as I looked at new systems. The thing is, I love Apple operating systems, and since I have an iPhone, the seamless integration and the ease of moving from one to another has a certain appeal.
The other issue is security. I love the fewer viruses and other issues with Mac, the less frequent updates, and the more security and privacy features available.
At least for me, that means that Apple wins in this category too. There are other options though, and we will look at those next in our comparison.
Mobile vs. Home Office vs. Combos
This is where things actually got tricky for me. Despite my loathing for Windows OS in general, there is something to be said for mobile systems, docking at home, and dedicated desktops of various types.
So I started to look carefully at those options. The Microsoft Surface makes a good argument for convertibles, something that can be both a tablet and a laptop. Add in that it is easily dockable, and you have a pretty good home system.
Of course, the other option is to have two machines, one desktop and one mobile. There are some interesting choices in this area, but where PC pulls ahead is that both devices, Windows tablets and the Surface for example, and the desktop use the same OS. Everything easily translates.
Apple has tried to solve this by building the “Files” bridge between iOS (for phones and iPads) and MacOS for laptops and desktops. It works, to a point, as long as you are logged into the same iCloud account. However, there are some programs that are not available as iOS apps, so using them mobile means you still need a laptop.
Apple is trying to resolve this too, with a new OS coming soon to iPad, an effort to make it even more like a laptop. It may work too and might win me over if they can really pull it off, so they have what is more their own version of a Surface type device.
But by the time you get an iMac (recently updated, thankfully) as a dedicated desktop, or a mini or one of the other various options, and then get an iPad on top of that, you are easily over the price of a well-appointed MacBook that will frankly be faster than both of the others.
The same is true with PC. By the time I get a desktop with the memory and features I want, along with a decent monitor, I’m still in the same price neighborhood. Then it goes back again to the option of docking a laptop, and some things that are again more personal preference than anything else.
Monitors and Docking
Apple, please. For years now, your monitors in your stores and online are outrageous for what you get. It is like you haven’t heard of New Egg, Best Buy open box, or even Costco. Your monitors are way overpriced. Docking is pretty easy with the new USB-C, but I don’t need your dedicated monitor for one cord docking and power pass through.
Docking stations that also have other ports are cheap and easy to come by too. Even fancy ones, at a little over $100, are pretty reasonable all things considered. So don’t try to sell me some Apple exclusive thing that is ridiculously overpriced. Partner with good vendors, make a good, but reasonable monitor (not $6000) and offer it to me.
This isn’t hard. The LG 4K on my desk now is bigger and was half the price of what you offer in store. And it’s better. End of rant. Non-Apple exclusive monitors and docking are the best option, even if you are an Apple die-hard.
This is probably the biggest factor for me. My old Mac was seemingly bulletproof, where previously it seemed like I went through PCs every few years at most. The same seemed to be true of my friends who were PC users as well. I don’t like changing computers.
I know it is easier and faster now than it has been in the past, but I am a sucker for not making changes unless I need to. I know people who switch computers often, even every few months, but that is just not me. I’d rather stick with the same machine as long as possible.
The thing is, PC is catching up in this arena too. Maybe. Some things are too new to tell, but if you follow my rule of thumb and look at what you need and them buy one step up from that, you should, in theory, be good for a while. As fast as tech is moving, that may stop being true in the near future.
One final note on software. There are still some programs that do not translate from PC to Mac. For writers, Scrivener works for both, but the Mac version is still better. If you’re using newer programs like Novel Factory, the online version works for Mac, but the desktop version does not.
The interior book formatting software called Vellum, an easy way to format both eBooks and paperbacks, is a Mac only program. There are others I am sure I am forgetting, but the point is, if you are making a switch, you might want to check the programs you prefer to use and how they work on the other platform first.
Also, if you have a great deal of money in software from one platform or another, you may have to repurchase it if licensing does not transfer. That can mean a lot of money. When I first made the switch from PC to Mac, it was easily close to $1,000 for me.
Your preferred software, and what you currently use will play a big role in the decision to switch or not to switch.
The Mac vs. PC debate is changing as the industry changes, and Apple becomes less edgy and more mainstream in its products and choices. Where once the craftsmanship and longevity of Apple products made the higher price worth it, recent missteps by the company have brought this into question.
For me though, two factors were the most critical. The first was operating system. I still can’t get past the Windows issues I have, and while in some ways I am open to trying again, at the moment at least it is not worth it. The other factor, quite simply is software. I have a lot of money and time invested in Mac only or Mac superior software, and I don’t want to give it up. Once you are in one ecosystem, it is hard to go back to the other without a significant cost.
So I chose to stick with Apple. I bought a newer monitor too, non-Mac LG, and a non-Mac docking station. I went with a MacBook Pro, a bit more than what I needed, but hopefully enough to take me through a few years before I need any replacements. I may add a tablet at some point, but for now docking the Pro when I am home works well enough for me.
What are your thoughts? Have an entirely different opinion? Join the discussion or let me know if you want to contribute an article of your own by emailing info_at_troylambertwrites.com. I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts.
Let’s be honest. One of the hazards of being a writer is working alone. A lot. To the point where your dog can actually become your best friend because they share all your deepest conversations and secrets. The problem increases when you are getting advice from your pets when it comes to business decisions, client vetting, and new ideas to make money.
That’s where partnering with others comes in. Sometimes those partnerships are forged in person, but other times they are formed on the internet. There are a lot of places that make a lot of promises, but one that consistently delivers great learning, great content, and fantastic help when you need it is the Freelance Writer’s Den, run by Carol Tice.
Click here for more information.
And this isn’t an empty sales pitch (although this article does contain affiliate links). This is a recommendation based on my experience, and the knowledge I have gained from being a member and engaging in webinars, free classes, and using resources found only in the Den.
Changing Job Titles
I listened to a one hour webinar online, one of the ones free to Den members, and while I learned several small things during that time, I learned one major one: your job title on LinkedIn can be a key to setting you apart from other freelancers. Having a niche, a focus, lets clients know right away if you are a fit for the job they are offering.
So I made a simple change. I changed my title from “freelance writer” to “content strategist.” What exactly did that do? Well, it told those who viewed my profile that I did more than just write blogs and web content and even SEO, which I do along with writing books, but it told them I did more.
As a result, I have created content strategy documents for brands (sometimes after writing articles for them for a long time first), I’ve raised my rates, and I’ve made more money. The simple thing is, as silly as it sounds, I would never have thought of doing that one thing until I was in the freelance writers den.
Courses and Resources
Did I mention that the hint above came in a webinar, one free to Den members? Yes? Well, the thing is there are several courses you can take along the way, all of them exceptionally valuable. Many will be geared toward the type of freelance work you want to do, but others will focus on areas you may not have thought of. Let’s face it, making a living writing is challenging, and often the solution is to diversify and learn to do different things.
Even if you are already earning a fair living as a freelance writer, there are tips and tricks on how to take your income to the next level, paying markets, emerging niches, and more. The courses and resources found in the Freelance Writers Den are truly unmatched anywhere else.
Okay, so here is the real deal: the Freelance Writers Den is inexpensive. There are a ton of other sites out there who want you to join, but they often cost way more money than what they offer. The Den is the opposite of that. You pay very little and get a lot in return. Carol Tice, who runs the den, is nothing short of Amazing with the help she offers. She brings in experts who share their tips and tricks, not to mention what you can learn from other members too.
It doesn’t matter if you write for magazines or if you write web content, blog posts, marketing copy, or what. If you are a freelance writer, or want to be one, you need to at least look at joining the Freelance Writers Den.
What Do I Get Out of All This?
Want to know a secret? Affiliate links don’t pay the bills. In fact, they usually don’t even pay for my parking in downtown Boise. It doesn’t matter. Really the purpose of this site and my upcoming Writing as a Business book(s) is to help other authors and freelancers not make some of the mistakes I made when I started out. But beyond that, it is designed to help you not make future mistakes either.
Most importantly, I want to equip authors, freelance writers, and other types of writers to do this one thing: join those of us who write for a living. We get up every single day and do the things that we love, and we get paid for them.
The Freelance Writers Den is a tool–one of many tools, but one that can help you build your business, increase your income, and change your life. Come join me! Being a part of it has been one of the best writing career decisions I have ever made as a freelancer.
It’s been a year of speculation about Barnes and Noble and their future, which quite honestly looked pretty bleak. Essentially the old management and ownership weren’t ready to step into the modern publishing age and learn to compete with Amazon.
And the way to do that, it turns out, comes from Amazon and their physical bookstores and even Waterstones, acquired in 2018 by Elliot Advisors. Elliot Advisors is run by a former bookseller (owner of Daunt Books) James Daunt, who will act as the B &N CEO.
What is that pattern? How will they survive and what does that mean to the business of writing?
The Publishing Precipice
Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of B & N or of traditional publishing in the modern age. It’s not the path to publication for me, but at the same time, I see that they do have a place in the publishing industry.
The problem is, there has been a balance in the publishing world for a while now. Originally, the Big 5 lost sight of their real customer, the reader. Instead, they saw their customer as the book store. So instead of marketing to readers, their attention went to book buyers, who they counted on to sell books for them and for the author.
Because they were so tied to those large publishers, B & N was reluctant to work with smaller presses and indie authors. The more authors chose those routes to publication and the more resistant B & N was to them, the more it seemed that they were missing some kind of balance.
Readers could get books for cheaper prices on Amazon, and find their favorite Indie authors, the ones the giant would not touch. But some authors still needed the traditional publishing route. And to keep bookstores in business, so did other mid-list authors. It just seemed as other giants fell, B & N was next.
Without them, big publishing houses would struggle to support their massive overhead, often covered by large B & N pre-orders. It was a dangerous house of cards, and Barnes and Noble was a huge part of it. “The loss of Barnes and Noble would have been catastrophic for the industry,” said Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster.
A purchase was really the best outcome for the flailing retailer and for the publishing industry overall.
The Indie Experience
As the giants fell, the Indie bookstore and Indie authors started to rise from the ashes. Local, small bookstores bought into something Barnes and Noble tried to copy and failed. They provided the shopper with tastes tailored to the market they were in–and an experience.
Going to a bookstore became about attending events, author signings and talks, classes, book clubs, and more. The local bookstore, following the lead of libraries in the digital age, has become a community meeting place. Authors and readers alike love them. We have moved back to booksellers who know their inventory, the community, and can make real, relevant recommendations.
Amazon saw this, and armed with tons of regional data, started to open their own physical bookstores, each tailored to the areas they were in. They were able to offer books they knew would sell based on what was selling online in their area.
They were also able to demo devices like the Kindle models and even tablets, giving their customers a hands-on experience similar to that provided by Apple.
It was brilliant. The challenging thing about it? Barnes and Noble had similar data and failed to use it. Amazon is also, arguably for sure, more friendly to the indie author, at least ones who are doing well. They even have their own publishing houses now and pick up authors from their Kindle publications on a regular basis.
Waterstones is perhaps the B & N of the UK–a large chain, they were largely tied to traditional publishers and an old school model that like their American cousins, was killing them.
And what have they done to thrive and then survive? Each Waterstones bookseller is allowed to tailor their store to suit their community and provide an experience> That is what sets each bookstore apart from making purchases online.
It’s the same type of model that Indie book stores and Amazon physical stores follow. You have data on what people in your area like, what they do, and how they operate. Quite simply, you give them the experience they are looking for, and they come back. Real readers are regular customer, like patrons at a restaurant.
So what’s next for Barnes and Noble? Well, first, an end to the warehouse-like stores with toys, records, and other non-related to books items. They will probably get smaller and more locally focused.
What does this mean to local authors? It means another place to market books–another local outlet for your work provided it is well done.
It also means, in part at least, a reprieve for the traditional publishing industry. Do they still need to evolve to survive? Yes. Relying on a single nationwide, large distribution system for survival is foolish at best. But the purchase, for now, gives them a little time to determine what their next move should be.
The purchase of Barnes and Noble is interesting even to Indie authors and booksellers. But this is only the first step, and the changes in the large, traditional publishing scene have really just begun.
Follow along here at our blog for more developments and predictions, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions about Writing as a Business. we’d love to hear from you, or just leave a comment below.
When I was young, I was told that I would never be able to make money as a writer. My stories were creative, cute, compelling, and any list of other words. But when I said I wanted to do it for a living, people laughed. Laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more.
Maybe they were right at the time. I needed a lot more practice as a writer, and I needed to decide some things about my life. Like what it meant to me to make a living and what I was willing to sacrifice to get there. I also had to realize it wasn’t just me who would make sacrifices, but those around me as well.
So when I finally found that other than writing I was pretty likely unemployable or at least had no real “career” prospects, I had to, for a long time, and a few times since, work a day job while I figured how to actually treat writing as a business. When I first started out, I had a full-time job, a family, and bills like everyone else. So how in the world did I find time to write?
Figure Out Your Best Writing Time
Most people by the time they are really ready to do this writing thing for a living already know when their brain works, but if you don’t, it is time to figure it out. Map your time, and pay attention to how you feel when you are writing at any given time. Note before we go any further: we are looking for your best writing time, but using that particular time of day to write is not always possible. You have to write when you can, but we will talk about that more in a moment.
When you feel the best and most creative is probably the time you will write the most words in the shortest time possible. That’s great. Then, if you can, arrange your schedule so that you are writing during that time.
For most people, their ideal writing time is either early in the morning or late at night. There is usually a lull in the middle of the day or specifically mid-afternoon, where the majority of people are less creative and productive. The point is to find that ideal time for you, and try to schedule the rest of your daily activities around it. If you can’t do that, you still need to write every day. But setting aside that ideal time should be a goal for you.
Writing as a business consists of three essential elements, outlined in more detail in my forthcoming book, Writing as a Business: Production, Distribution, and Marketing. You want to use your most creative time for writing, most of the time. However, as a creative person, you also should use your best time for developing a new marketing strategy, writing great blogs, and even for some administration tasks. To fit all this in when you are working full time is frankly pretty challenging.
- This means you can only do a few things to free up your time.
- Get up early or stay up late. You know when your most creative time is, so do one or the other. For a while at least, you will sacrifice some sleep.
- Work on your breaks. This can mean lunch breaks but it can also mean dashing out a page or two on a coffee break.
- Watch less television. As a writer you need to be reading, so don’t cut out your reading time, but you can probably watch less television. This can free up a lot of time for writing and for business.
- Get some rest. I know, I just said you will sacrifice some sleep, and you will. But be sure on the weekends and when you can that you get some extra rest. Your muse will thank you.
- Take care of yourself. Writers are notorious for neglecting exercise and proper diet. Take care of yourself, and your time will be more productive.
- Set your time(s) to write as an appointment, and keep them. The only way you will write when you should is if you hold yourself to it. Be accountable to someone if you need to, but when you say you will be writing, write. Don’t do anything else at that time.
The last item is important not just to your writing time, but your Writing as a Business time. If you plan to succeed and quit that day job, you have to leave time for things other than writing. We will talk about that in another post about time management. The important thing is you need to have a schedule and stick to it.
Set Goals and Deadlines
Want to really be productive? Set deadlines and goals and hold yourself to them. This sometimes means since you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, you need to trick your brain or use other methods to hold yourself accountable. This applies to short term goals especially. If you have a goal to write 50K words by March, that is an easy goal to set, but unless you divide that into how much you need to write every single day to reach that goal, it can be easy to procrastinate.
If you are working with a publisher, they will usually set a deadline, and you will need to break that down into shorter goals. If you are indie published, set a public release date and force yourself to stick to it. Better yet, in either case, book yourself on an editor’s schedule and put a deposit down. Usually, if you miss that deadline, the editor will charge you extra and may have to bump your book further down in their schedule.
Partner with other writers for accountability too. Keep them focused on goals and deadlines and allow them to do the same for you. It’s important to just get your drafts done and move on. A writing partner can help you do just that.
Be Willing to Sacrifice
This is the number one stumbling block to people making the transition from writing as a sideline to writing as a business. They either do not want to give up sleep, don’t want to give up television or another vice, or they will simply say they don’t have anything they can give up to increase their writing time.
First, this is likely not true. Most people have things they do that are not necessary, and take up time they could be using to write. If you are not willing to sacrifice something, making time for your writing will be exceptionally hard, and for many impossible.
If you are going to write for a living, you are going to have to make time to write. Do you have questions? Feel free to reach out anytime. I love helping others avoid the mistakes I made.
Have something to contribute? Tips and tricks that have worked for you? I’d love to hear from you.
As I often say, and as I stress in my new book, Writing as a Business, coming soon, writing is a business. If you have published a book, you now have a product to sell. That means you have started a business, and you are an entrepreneur. Congratulations!
“But I am not a good business person,” you say. “I just want to write, not run a business!”
Good luck with that. Unless you have someone to run the business side for you, there will forever be administrative work to do. It is the nature of publishing, You need three things: production, distribution, and marketing.
This not only includes writing some words, but rewriting, editing, cover design, interior formatting, and more. Many authors get stuck in this phase and never really get out of it. Not only does my new book cover this, but we will talk about it on this blog as well.
You have to get your work in the hands of others, and that means distributing it as widely as possible. What does this mean and how do you really do it? We will explore your options here, and what they look like. There should be reasons for every decision you make, and they should all be related to reaching your readers in a more meaningful way where they are.
This means you need to know who they are, where they hang out, and how they would like you to get in touch. This can be complicated, and it changes all the time.
This is the most dreaded word in the writer world, but it is important. We will talk about all aspects of it here, from word of mouth to paid ads. What kind of marketing do you need? The answer is usually a bit of everything. We will talk about what that blend looks like and how much you need to budget for getting the word out about your books. It is going to cost you.
Are you someone who writes for a living or wants to? Do you make money from your writing and want to share your approach and the business end of the writing life? Get in touch with me at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you, and what value you can add to the discussion.
Stay tuned. More great stuff to come.